Unequivocally Ambiguous

Humorous Stories on Parenting, Culture and Life

Heavy Whispering My Sins to the Man in Women’s Robe

by | Apr 6, 2024 | Life, Uncategorized | 0 comments

The Parable of the Red Snapper Who Ate My Faith

After our 10th-grade Philosophy teacher introduced himself, I asked him if we would study Confucius or Lao Tzu’s teachings. He acted like I had spit on his patacón (a delicious twice-fried plantain dish popular in Colombia).

He pretended he had never heard of those philosophers.

I didn’t believe him. After all, who hasn’t heard of Confucius’s saying, “Find work you love because you will never be able to retire.” Or Lao Tzu’s “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step: buying hiking boots.”

Then he said, “Our class will revolve solely around European thinkers.”

I didn’t despair. Europe had also produced some serious thinkers. “What about Nietzsche or Sartre?”

He responded that we were part of a Catholic institution. As such, we would be spending time with thinkers whose framework supported a spiritual life like
“As part of a catholic school, we won’t be spending any time with those philosophers. We will study Descartes, Plato, St. Joseph, and St. Austin. Especially Saint Austin.” St. Austin was big because we were in an Augustinian school.

Like the know-it-all rebellious douche I was, I quickly assumed our philosophy class was an excuse for the school to promote those philosophers that made it easy for religion to mind-control society.

Oh, yes, I had also read Marx and Engel’s The Communist Manifesto. I saw the invisible puppeteering strings of the dominant class — albeit imaginary ones.

Despite my disappointment, I followed along and took the class. I also had no option. I still depended on my mom for sustenance. And even though she wasn’t even a Sunday catholic, she wanted us to be devout because it is a good topic of conversation when you meet with your sisters. Nothing is better than bragging about your god-fearing, engineering-bound kid.

The “metaphysical” shit hit the fan when our teacher decided to impersonate Socrates. But first, a refresher on Socrates as portrayed by Plato.

Socrates was infamous for pompous snubs like “I only know I know nothing.” Apparently, he knew enough to say his wife was mean, ugly, and nagging. He also said that because of her, he was prepared for a life of thinking important thoughts in the agora — what today would be considered the unemployment office — while picking his nose; a through-and-through, well-rounded stand-up man.

Socrates saw himself as a midwife of the soul, and through his Socratic method and arduous pushing and grunting, he would bring out the knowledge people didn’t even know they had from the dark and moist canals of their brains.

I can only assume that Socrates saw those thoughts as fatherless bastards since people didn’t even know they had them.

Again, a nice guy!

The first part of the method focused on incessantly questioning people until they doubted whether their feet were on the ground. Here is where the famous phrase comes from. Then, he would rebuild “true” concepts from small assumptions that the interrogated party knew to be “true” beyond the shadow of a doubt. Okay, now we are up to speed.

Our philosophy teacher decided he would showcase the Socratic method to us. Somehow, we landed on questioning our Catholic faith. We unsuspectedly played along with little knowledge of how we saw the world was about to be rocked to its core forever.

As the questioning progressed, we defended our faith with zeal as best as possible. But we quickly learned we didn’t know why we believed in everything we were taught.

As the Socratic method prescribed, once our teacher shook our foundational beliefs, he asked us questions meant to rebuild our knowledge, or in this case, our faith. But, to his dismay, we never recovered and kept retorting with doubt-instilling questions to his faith-building ones. Now, we held on to the light — or the darkness as he may have perceived it.

That year, we boycotted our religion at school every morning, refusing to persignate — do the sign of the cross on ourselves — or recite the morning prayer. Until the principal of our school informed us that we would pray or be expelled from school.

We all still feared our parents and depended on them for ‘Los tres golpes’ — which translates to ‘the three strikes’ — a Colombian way of referring to three meals and not to child abuse, although corporal punishment was not out of the question, as my sister can attest.

We gave in to the pressure, not without first learning the social importance of performing empty sacred rituals without really meaning it.

I don’t think my teacher intended to shake the foundation of our Roman Catholic Apostolic faith. He had, after all, spent time in the seminary trying to become a priest, and he was, in everyone’s eyes, a devout Catholic.

But he overestimated his powers of persuasion or the resilience of our hand-me-down faith. He had successfully started sixty-two good Catholic teenage boys on their path to atheism — even if temporarily.

I felt extremely guilty about doubting. So, I did what most Catholics do when they are feeling guilty. I went to a dark and moist corner of the church. I got down on my knees, and through a little window from which I couldn’t see the other side (but I could hear someone’s labored breathing), I spoke to a man dressed in a white woman gown whose idea of dealing with the world was removing himself from it.

“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.” — these were the words I had been taught, so I whispered them to the man, waiting for his absolution even though I’d never met him.

He inquired about my sins, which by then included only petty things teenagers do, like wishing people bad things, cussing people who disagreed with me (behind their backs), and, apparently, having liked myself in the shower a little too much.

Outside the confessional was a line of Catholic boys waiting to confess to their insipid and timid sins, so I decided to focus on my doubts and forget about the peccadilloes.

There was nothing worse for any Catholic than knowing that if you were in the presence of Jesus, you would put your fingers through the holes in his wrists just to make sure it was him. In these circles, this was known as pulling a doubting Thomas — not to be confused with a peeping Tom.

I also knew that even if I had managed to put my fingers through Jesus’ wrists, I would’ve still suspected him to be a talented illusionist.

I was worried, so I kneeled and spilled all my doubts — technical or otherwise. The priest said not to worry, that it was a passing moment and happened to everyone. Before leaving, he recommended I read from the book of Jonah.

What a relief. Restored faith was only a short fable away, albeit one with obscure language, outdated references, annoying two columns per page, and a soup of numbers splattered across the pages.

I dutifully found the recommended chapter and looked in it for the answers to my sins of doubt.

Jonah disobeyed god’s command, so a giant fish of unknown origin ate him — maybe a whale.

At the age of sixteen, I had never even seen a whale or a 20-foot red snapper, for that matter, since snappers were more common in the region of Colombia I lived in. I have seen regular red snappers, which we call Pargo Rojo in Colombia, and we eat them with coconut rice and patacones.

These snappers are not of the carnivore variety. If somehow they were to develop a divine taste for human flesh, they would not be able to finish nibbling on a human pinky before getting their heads bashed in with a machete.

Machetes are not used for fishing in Colombia, but I am choosing this word as it helps me highlight stylistically that I didn’t grow up here and that I speak Spanish. And if you don’t know what a machete is, it’s the Hispanic version of an Axe — a broad-blade sword farmers use to open up coconuts, spank their kids, and scare away evil spirits.

The moral of the story didn’t sit well with me. I had to believe in god because bad situations were around the corner if I didn’t. God would only rescue me if I obeyed everything he wanted me to do. It seemed ontologically perverse even though, at the time, I didn’t know what ontological even meant. I’m not sure I do now.

The book of Jonah, a story meant to reassure doubters, was the small push I needed to decide that maybe this whole religion thing wasn’t for me after all and that we all have different paths.

Apparently, mine leads directly to being eaten whole by a mythical snapper and preserved in its stomach’s juices for a month.

That’s why I always carry a copy of the Tao Te King with me when I go to the beach. Given the opportunity, I won’t change my mind; I will just try to catch up with my studies in Eastern philosophy.


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